Sears Settles With FTC For Putting Spyware On Customers' Computers

from the customers-aren't-lawyers dept

You may recall a couple years back, a controversy over the fact that Sears appeared to be installing spyware on the computers of online customers who had agreed to join a "community." Sears insisted this wasn't true, and that it really was software to help create a community of shoppers -- but the evidence suggested otherwise. The FTC eventually got involved, and now Sears has settled the charges that it was unfairly spying on users without clearly indicating this to users. Sears insisted that because the fine print of the terms of service for joining the community said that it would track your online browsing, it was in the clear, but the FTC noted, accurately, that most users would not have gotten that impression from signing up. As Thomas O'Toole notes about this ruling:
I'm pretty sure that attorneys would understand the breadth of the consent covered by the phrase "online browsing." It means everything. The position taken by the FTC signals the agency's belief that consumers should not be treated like lawyers when it comes to privacy-related disclosures. The FTC also appeared to be concerned about the fact that the disclosure was buried in a lengthy privacy statement, which was displayed to the consumer rather late in the consent-collecting process.
This is a good thing. Customers shouldn't need to be lawyers to understand what it is they're agreeing to, and it's nice to see the FTC recognize that fact.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    "Michael Masnick is an expert at the Insight Community."

    What exactly does it take to be an expert? What are the qualifications?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Rob, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:39am

    This is a fantastic development -- it is absolutely absurd that companies can get away with whatever they want by burying it in an EULA that they know nobody will ever read. It would be different if people rarely had to consent to an EULA, but with how often these things are shoved down our throats, it would be impossible to read every one of them in full, and even then, the legalese that they are always written in conceals their true intentions from the reader. I have chosen to go open source, and cut the amount of EULA's I am confronted with down to a level where I can at least skim each one before I agree to it, but even this would be vitually impossible for a Windows or Mac user where EVERYTHING is restricted by license.

    (P.S. -- I am not trying to create a Linux v. Win v. Mac argument here, please leave the arguments at home, I know the advantages and disadvantages of each platform, as do all the other readers of this blog, so take that discussion elsewhere)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    The Cenobyte, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:02am

    So when will they do this for everything?

    I am happy to the the FTC do this for what sears did, so now how about Cell phones, power companies, cable companies, Auto loans, Home loans, leases or anything else you have to sign a contract for.

    It is far to often that a company uses licence agreements to change rates or add fees and then just refer back to some bit of the contract that you never saw or would have understood if you had the chance. For example Cable companies get away with charging early termination fees on a 'contract' that you never signed or saw.

    It always suprised me how seldom the FTC or the FCC goes after large companies that could change the way the industry behaves in stuff like this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Ronald Dumsfeld (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:21am

    Meh

    "Sears Settles With FTC For Putting Spyware On Customers' Computers"

    Actually, that didn't piss me off all that much. But when they emailed me saying they needed help transfering money, that pissed me off.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    JohnRaven,CHT,CSH (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 11:51am

    Re:

    >by Anonymous Coward - Jun 8th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    >"Michael Masnick is an expert at the Insight Community."

    >What exactly does it take to be an expert? What are the
    >qualifications?

    Rest assured, that no matter WHAT the qualifications are... they are FAR, FAR more than being an anonymous coward.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 12:10pm

    I used to be a Sears Customer...

    ...up until about 25 years ago, when they ripped me off on a roofing job and refused to honor their warranty. If I had wanted a roof that leaked, installed by illegal aliens that littered my yard with beer cans, I could have gotten that for about 1/3rd the price that the Sears Authorized Contractor charged me.

    I want Sears to go out of business. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 12:20pm

    Re: So when will they do this for everything?

    "It always suprised me how seldom the FTC or the FCC goes after large companies that could change the way the industry behaves in stuff like this."

    So true. As a corollary, it amazes me how many people seem to accept the premise of "buyer beware" and the need for so-called regulatory relief from disingenuous business practices in the name of "fostering business". If we are a nation where things such as responsibility and the law mean anything, companies should willfully stop playing these "games". If a company is not willing to act responsibly then regulate them.

    The US, a nation of by and for the corporations.

    That reminds me, one person I know suggested that all lawmakers, like the race car drivers, wear the emblem of their corporate sponsors!!!!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    WarOtter (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re:

    My thoughts exactly

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    stat_insig (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    Re: Re:

    But... you wouldn't see "Anonymous Coward is an expert at the Insight Community." anywhere.

    I am sick of seeing self-professed "experts" in the media. Fox/CNN everywhere!

    IMHO Mike is an expert, but you shouldn't be criticizing somebody just because that person doesn't believe the same.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Overcast (profile), Jun 8th, 2009 @ 1:56pm

    wow, didn't know about that.

    Another one on the list of 'do not shop here' businesses for me.

    I'm no expert either way - but I do decide where I spend my cash ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    NullOp, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    Sears really does have everything!

    I didn't realize spyware was one of the things they had! I almost never shop at Sears either physically or online. I am more upset they did this sort of thing at all rather than where they hid the "agreement."

    No more SEARS, I'm off to Wally-World!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 8th, 2009 @ 3:24pm

    Re: John Raven's Post

    I think the point of the first post was to show how the author of this article explains how Sears didn't explain what "Online Browsing" is and the author doesn't explain what "Expert" is.

    Besides, you're a Stage Hypnotist- One who takes advantage of certain peoples weak minds and sells Self-Help books to those dumb enough to buy. Get a life

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Jun 10th, 2009 @ 2:45pm

    Sears and spyware

    Good article, but I would add one thing:

    I AM an attorney, but I have better things to do with my life than to go through "lengthy" disclosure statements! In fact, I won't do it.

    So, the disclosures should be very clear, non-legalese, AND very short and to the point!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    boycott sears, Jun 29th, 2009 @ 4:33am

    SEARS DEMANDED my Name, Phone, Address, & Drivers Lic TODAY !!

    Had a year-old small appliance crap out on me. Took original receipt, warranty book, and the POS item to the Sears department where we pointed out the California residents' 3-year replacemant warranty.

    At that point, salesperson scanned the barcode on the old receipt which didn't bring up my personal info, and so he asked my phone # and I promptly ask WHY?

    He stated they could not process or do an exchange without my info. I rattled off a fake number and then he said are you SookieYee I said "no". He called the manager because I was refusing to give my personal info since all they needed was a original purchase receipt.

    We exchanged sharp words and he basically said that he was NOT going to do anything for me and that he WOULD NOT allow me to enter false info because they MUST see a valid ID showing photo, address, and name to PROVE I am who I am.

    I HAD to give them the information to get my rightful replacement.

    All this trouble (and the increasing chipping away of my right to privacy in the retail environment) to trade an old piece of crap for a new piece of crap that will break mysteriously in exactly 1 year.

    I promised them I will never purchase anything from Sears again as long as I live. Ever.

    By the way, Macy's is the same way. Clerks claim they cannot process a sale without your name and phone number.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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